Tennessee Alumnus

A Degree of Danger

A Degree of Danger

By Emily Slagle

U.S. Army Lt. Jeremiah Manning has a perfectly good excuse to put off finishing his master’s degree in civil engineering. He is stationed at Joint Base Balad in Iraq and won’t be coming home until February.

But in a world of telecommuting, videoconferencing, and “webinars,” being nearly halfway round the world is no obstacle. Manning found a way to not only continue working on his degree but complete it by taking a course offered through the Department of Distance Education and Independent Study (DEIS) at UT Knoxville.

This summer Manning took “Urban Systems: Engineering and Management,” which was taught online by adjunct professor Sam Parnell. There were some students who actually sat in the classroom in Knoxville while others joined the class through webconferencing. For Manning, it meant staying up well past bedtime and even falling asleep in his office. He logged in when he could every Tuesday and Thursday evening. In Knoxville, it was 4:45 p.m. In Iraq, it was 11:45 p.m. The class usually lasted 2 hours.

“Taking classes while I’m here is a huge burden,” Manning wrote in an e-mail from Iraq. “I typically work on the assignments and view the courses when everyone else has completed their 14- to 18-hour day. I have slept in my office a few nights.”

All of his work for the master’s degree has been through distance education–first at the University of Florida (of which, Manning writes, “I didn’t really want to be a Gator”) and then UT. He was mobilized while taking another course during the spring semester.

“It will have taken me close to three school years to complete this degree part-time long distance, and that is long enough,” he wrote. “It feels good to know that I will have been able to do this one thing for myself this year here in Iraq.”

Parnell heard about Manning and knew this was the last course he needed. Parnell was willing to work with Manning no matter what it took, but it turns out that he did not need to make many special accommodations.

“Jeremiah had a microphone like everyone else, and it sounds the same from Iraq as it does in Knoxville,” Parnell said.

Manning’s brigade oversees all the engineering work for the Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq.

“This is cool because working at this level, I get to see everything that is going on in Iraq, from all of our construction operations to the counter-IED work being done, and I get to travel throughout the country to develop projects and programs,” Manning wrote.

“And by the way, everywhere you go and whatever you are doing, you have to be mindful of some type of attack coming when you’re not looking.”

Following his current duties in Iraq, Manning expects to return to the U.S. in February 2009 and work with the Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“The work [in Iraq] is fun and interesting, but the sacrifice is great,” Manning wrote. “I look forward to being back in Tennessee.”

UT salutes Manning’s above-and-beyond efforts to complete his degree while serving his country.

“Jeremiah is an excellent example of a motivated individual who has utilized available resources to reach his goal,” said Caroline Bowers, assistant director of DEIS. “He is serving his country in Iraq while completing his graduate program–no small accomplishment!”